799: PREMIERSHIP: Gerard Houllier w
by : Antony Melvin
People quickly forget just how good a manager Gerard Houllier was and how far he was taking Liverpool before he had his well publicised heart problems in October 2001. Looking back it seems clear that the heart attack he suffered after that match against Leeds was the turning point in his tenure. He hasn’t been the same since and Liverpool have gone backwards.
Houllier arrived at Liverpool in August 1998, a little late to shape the key pre-season period for Liverpool. He was initially installed as a joint manager with the existing incumbent – Roy Evans. Houllier took sole charge on 12 November 1998, after Evans’ position became untenable. Houllier was being praised for everything that went right and Evans was being blamed for everything that went wrong. In four seasons Roy Evans had led Liverpool to consecutive top four finishes, playing attractive passing football – it wasn’t considered good enough.
Houllier took the team he inherited to an eventual 7th place with 54 points, a season he still does not accept should be part of his managerial record. 1999/2000 was his first full season in charge. The team improved and Liverpool were back up to fourth finishing with 67 points. The upward curve continued in 2000/1 with a third place finish in the league and 69 point to go with an FA Cup, UEFA Cup and League Cup for a pretty special season.
Hopes were high for 2001/2 and Liverpool were many pundits tip for the title. And the team did well despite the loss of the manager. Any team can general get by on auto-pilot for a few months and his ideas and tactical plans were used in his absence to push Liverpool to within ‘10 games from greatness’. Second place and 80 points surely pointed to an imminent championship.
But the Houllier that returned was more withdrawn and introspective. Excuses and tantrums were replacing the easy going nature of the Frenchman. He was being noticed more for his holidays during the season than for his dedication to a stressful and exacting profession.
In the two full seasons since Houllier returned to coaching Liverpool have got 60 points (finishing a distant fourth) in the season just finished, and 64 points and a fifth place finish in 2002/3.
So the upward curve that was so evident in 2001 was rudely curtailed by Houllier’s health. The team was still able to get by on auto-pilot for much of 2002 – even being top in November 2002, but since then the team has slipped and drifted.
The stats are simple 54-67-69-80-64-60 is a points sequence where there is a clear peak before a return to mediocrity. Houllier has clearly taken Liverpool as far as he can.
So as the whispering game continues at Anfield; it is clear that Houllier will now be sacked if there is a reasonable alternative available. A sad end to a tenure that in the summer of 2001 was probably on the brink of winning the title for Liverpool – only for an act of God to intervene. Liverpool fans would do well to remember this when Houllier leaves sometime this week.